An internationally known handler of a cadaver dog admitted she planted bones and other phony evidence at crime scenes across Michigan and Ohio.
Sandra Marie Anderson of Sanford and her Doberman-German short-hair dog, Eagle, participated in hundreds of searches, including at the World Trade Center after September 11 and at mass graves in Bosnia and Panama.
Anderson, 43, searched dozens of historical sites — from a Nebraska Native American burial ground to a Mackinac Island golf course, hunting for remains of soldiers killed in 1812.
But she has admitted she planted evidence for Eagle to find in at least a half-dozen cases. Lawyers for Azizul Islam of Plymouth, convicted in the 1999 murder and dismembering of his wife, have asked for a new trial based on the disclosure.
FBI affidavits obtained by The Detroit News raise questions about why police didn’t catch Anderson before April 2002, when she was seen by a Michigan State Police employee planting a bone at a search site in the Huron National Forest.
FBI records show that police also saw her plant evidence in January 2002 at the Proud Lake Recreation Center, near Wixom, in Oakland County.
As early as 1999, Anderson repeatedly claimed to have found evidence that was inconsistent with what investigators were looking for.
In July 2001, police in Columbia County, Wis., searched for a missing woman.
“(Anderson) located several bones in a pile of brush which had been placed there by a neighbor just hours before her arrival. The bones were human, but determined to be the bones of an older male, rather than a younger female,” reported FBI Special Agent David Marthaler.
Anderson pleaded guilty late Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood — days before she was to go on trial. There was no public notice of her guilty plea.
In her plea, she admitted to planting bones, carpet fibers, a toe and a bloody saw blade.
She faces up to two years in prison under a plea agreement. Prosecutors wouldn’t discuss the reasons for her actions publicly.
Anderson’s actions “seriously undermined the ability of dedicated law enforcement officials to investigate crimes and bring those responsible to justice,” said R. Alexander Acosta, assistant attorney general for civil rights.
The FBI reviewed cases that Anderson worked on in Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Michigan and Panama. More than a dozen police agencies took part in the investigation that began in April 2002, when Anderson was assisting the FBI in a search of the Huron National Forest searching for the body of a woman who had been missing for 20 years. A Michigan State police employee saw Anderson reach into her sock and place a human bone in the area being searched.
A day earlier, an Iosco Township officer saw Anderson place a bone in an area that had been thoroughly searched. DNA testing showed the two bones could not have come from the missing woman.
Within one day of the search, the FBI had learned of at least five questionable incidents involving Anderson.
On Jan. 4, 2002, an Oakland County sheriff’s deputy saw Anderson drop a white, bone-like object from her right pant leg and “bury the object under a small but obvious pile of dirt with her foot,then claim to find the same object.”
In her plea, she admitted to planting the bone at Proud Lake, where police were searching for a body. She also admitted to planting a toe at a scene in Delta, Ohio on April 9, 2002 — even though police later found the missing body with all 10 toes intact.
In the Plymouth case, Azizul Islam was sentenced to life in prison in October 2000 in the death of his wife, Tracy. Parts of her dismembered body were found in Dearborn and Ohio.
Anderson admitted to planting a blood-stained saw blade in the basement of the house. While Tracy Islam’s blood was found in the basement, Anderson admitted to putting her own blood on the saw blade.
“This is so outrageous that it taints the whole system,” said Islam’s lawyer, Michael A. Schwartz. Wayne Circuit Judge Patricia Fresard is considering granting Islam a new trial.
In an interview before charges were brought against Anderson, she told author Katherine Ramsland that she began working with dogs at age 18.
“Saying you ‘might’ be able to do it is cruel. I’ve seen where dog teams have come through and told an agency that an area is all clear,” Anderson said. “And then guess where I find it? Right there where they said nothing was there.”
You can reach David Shepardson at (313) 222-2028 or firstname.lastname@example.org.